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42nd Street


42nd Street: I’m Young And Healthy

Theatrical poster

42nd Street is a 1933 American Warner Bros. musical film directed by Lloyd Bacon with choreography by Busby Berkeley. The songs were written by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics), and the script was written by Rian James and James Seymour, with Whitney Bolton (uncredited), from the novel of the same name by Bradford Ropes.

The film is a backstage musical, and was very successful at the box office. 42nd Streetwas nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1934, and in 1998 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In 2006 this film ranked 13th on the American Film Institute‘s list of best musicals.


Naive newcomer Peggy makes her firstfaux pas, antagonizing tough director Julian

It is 1932, during the early days of the Depression, and noted Broadway producers Jones (Robert McWade) and Barry (Ned Sparks) are putting on Pretty Lady, a musical starring Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels). Dorothy is involved with wealthy Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), who is the show’s “angel” (financial backer). But while she is busy keeping Dillon both hooked and at arm’s length, Dorothy is also secretly seeing her old vaudeville partner, the out-of-work Pat Denning (George Brent).

Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter), who is the best, is hired to direct. His doctor warns him he risks another nervous breakdown or even his life if he continues on his high-pressure profession. Despite his long success, however, Marsh is broke as a result of the 1929 Stock Market Crash. He must make his last show a major hit and financial success if he is to have enough money to retire on.

Cast selection and rehearsals begin amidst fierce competition, with not a few “casting couch” innuendos flying around. Naïve newcomer Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), who arrives in New York from her home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is duped and ignored until two experienced chorines, Lorraine Fleming (Una Merkel) and Ann “Anytime Annie” Lowell (Ginger Rogers), take her under their wing. Lorraine is assured a job because of her relationship with dance director Andy Lee (George E. Stone); she also sees to it that Ann and Peggy are chosen. The show’s juvenile lead, Billy Lawler (Dick Powell), takes an immediate liking to Peggy, as does Pat.

When Marsh learns about Dorothy’s relationship with Pat, he sends some thugs to rough him up. That plus Dorothy’s realization that their situation is unhealthy makes Pat agree to break up; he gets a job in Philadelphia.

Rehearsals continue for five weeks to Marsh’s complete dissatisfaction, until the night before the show’s opening in Philadelphia, when Brock fractures her ankle. Next morning, Dillon, having quarreled with Dorothy, wants Marsh to replace her with his new girlfriend, Annie. Annie, however, tells Marsh that she cannot carry the show, but the inexperienced Peggy can. With 200 jobs and his future riding on the outcome, a desperate Marsh rehearses Sawyer mercilessly (vowing “I’ll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl”) until an hour before the premiere.

Billy finally gets up the nerve to tell Peggy he loves her; she enthusiastically kisses him. Then Dorothy shows up and wishes Peggy luck, telling her that she and Pat are getting married. The show goes on. Nearly twenty minutes are devoted to three Busby Berkeley production numbers: “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, “Keep Young and Healthy”, and “42nd Street”. Pretty Lady is a hit.

In the original Bradford Ropes novel, Julian Marsh and Billy Lawler are lovers. Since this sort of relationship was deemed unacceptable to audiences of the era, a romance was created for Billy and Peggy.


 Cast notes


Star Dorothy strings the “angel” along, but her heart belongs to her old partner Pat

42nd Street was Ruby Keeler’s first film, and the first time that choreographer Busby Berkeley and songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin had worked for Warner Bros. Director Lloyd Bacon was not the first choice to direct – he replaced Mervyn LeRoy when LeRoy became ill. LeRoy was dating Ginger Rogers at the time, and had suggested to her that she take the role of “Anytime Annie.”

Actors who were considered for lead roles when the movie was being cast include Warren William and Richard Barthelmess for the role of “Julian Marsh”, eventually played by Warner Baxter; Kay Francis and Ruth Chatterton instead of Bebe Daniels for the role of “Dorothy Brock”; Loretta Young as “Peggy Sawyer” instead of Ruby Keeler; Joan Blondell instead of Ginger Rogers for “Anytime Annie”; Glenda Farrell for the role of Lorraine, played by Una Merkel, and Frank McHugh instead of the dimuitive George E. Stone as Andy, the dance director.

42nd Street began production on 5 October 1932 and shot for 28 days at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California. The total cost of making the film has been estimated to be $340,000–$439,000.

The film premiered in New York on 9 March 1933 at the Strand Theatre, and went into general release two days later, becoming one of the most profitable films of the year, bringing in an estimated gross of $2,300,000. It received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Sound Recording for Nathan Levinson, and was named one of the 10 Best Films of 1933 by Film Daily.   Its success permitted a higher budget and more elaborate production numbers in Warner’s follow-up film to this one, Footlight Parade.

Musical numbers – All songs have music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin.

  • You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me – sung by Bebe Daniels (video clip)
  • “It Must Be June” – sung by Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell and the chorus
  • “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” Song Clip – sung and danced by Ruby Keeler and Clarence Nordstrom, with Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel and the chorus
  • “Young and Healthy” – sung by Dick Powell and the chorus
  • Forty-Second Street – sung and danced by Ruby Keeler, and sung by Dick Powell (video clip)

A tracking shot between dancers’ legs

Also, a “Love Theme,” written by Harry Warren, is played under scenes between Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, and Bebe Daniels and George Brent. It has no title or lyrics, and is unpublished.


By the time Busby Berkeley died in 1976, this film had become revered as the archetypal backstage musical, the one that “gave life to the clichés that have kept parodists happy,” as critic Pauline Kael wrote.

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